Why is it important to connect?
With the busy schedules we face as families, it is easy to get lost in the day to day grind. Between games, dance recitals, music lessons, and never ending homework, it can be easy to forget to set aside downtime to connect with our children. Why is it so important for us to set aside time to connect with our kiddos? Because connection is at the heart of what we need as humans. We are wired to connect with those we love, to remind us of our support systems in the time of need, and to feel wanted by others. As parents, it is so important to provide this to our children. Just as we meet our child’s physical needs with food, shelter, and extracurricular activities, our children also need to have their emotional needs met.
When we feel connected, secure, and safe, our brains are better able to manage all of the input they receive throughout the day. In a connected state, we are better equipped to handle big emotions and better able to problem solve when things don’t go our way. When children feel safe, loved and secure they are able to take risks because they know that someone will be there if they need them.
Now that we talked briefly about why it is important to connect, you may be thinking, “Gosh, now I have to add another thing to my do-list?” Well, thankfully, finding ways to connect can actually be quite simple. Moments of connection don’t have to be an hour-long process, it can be just a few minutes a day. I have some suggestions below, but find what works best for your family and your schedule. You can easily adapt any of these suggestions to different times of the day, or different frequencies. I typically suggest that you try at least one of these once a week. It doesn’t have to be the same each week, and you don’t have to do all of these at once. You know your child and your family best.
Suggestions for connection:
1. Play a familiar game with your child
Yes, it’s as easy as playing a board or a card game with your child. I encourage you both to put away your phones and play your favorite game together. Whether it’s Uno, Candyland, or Go-Fish, playing a board game can encourage connection and communication between the two of you. I have found that teenagers even benefit from this approach, though they might appreciate a more challenging board or card game. Competition should be off the table with this approach. If you notice your child or teen becoming frustrated, take a break or switch to a new game. Board games are a great way to practice turn-taking, empathy and joy with each other.
2. Eat family dinner or meals together
Family meal time is a perfect way to encourage connection. There’s something natural about sitting around at the dinner table and sharing stories about one’s day over a good meal. Now, I know many of you may not be able to do this every night, and you certainly don’t have to. But try to sit down as a family at least once or twice a week. Again, turn off the TV or phones and simply sit down with one another.
3. Create a ritual on the drive to or from school
If your child is under sixteen, you are probably driving them to school or extracurricular activities which means you are probably in the car together quite often. Creating a ritual or a moment of connection can easily be adapted to your busy driving schedule. For example, on your way to school you can each name something you are excited for, something you are nervous for, and something you are hopeful for the day. One family I know listens to their favorite audio book together. Another idea is to play a familiar car game. Get creative, those long drives and waiting in the carpool lines can be an excellent time for you to connect.
4. Set aside screen-free time at least once a week
This one goes into the other suggestions, but I encourage all families to set aside 1-hour free of screen time at least once a week. This means no phones, no TV, or tablets. Encourage your child to play a game outside with you, or work on a puzzle together. Whatever it is, remove distractions from technology so that you can focus on whatever game or activity you are doing together.
5. Find a special way to connect before bedtime
Creating a ritual of connection before bedtime can not only be helpful for your relationship with each other, but also promote healthy sleep. If you have a young child, this can look like reading a bedtime story together or cuddling before bed. An older child or teen, this can be sitting down with them one-on-one and talking about their day.
Whatever method you choose, find one that works for your family. By being intentional about spending time with your child, you are giving them the signal that you are there for them and that you support them when they need you.
If you or your child are still struggling, you don’t have to navigate this alone. Reach out to us to find a therapist that best fits you and your child’s needs.
The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired By Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson